Friday, November 17, 2017

Presents...For Much Less

    Unless you're a bazillionaire (or spend like one), it's easy to look at the list of people you want to buy gifts for...
     and feel a little frightened.

How are you going to stretch your budget to cover everybody? 

Sometimes -- you shouldn't. Not every friend expects a lavish present. In fact, most would be happy you didn't -- because they can reciprocate in the same way.

Waltzing onstage: a batch of present ideas priced at $5 -- or less.

Handmade can be best. Many people have neither the time nor talent to stitch a small purse, or embroider something. If you can, and do it well -- do it.

'New' is relative. A basket purchased at Wal-Mart looks no different than one from the thrift shop. Also, look for items there still in the box. (I've found many, with the price tags still on.)

If it's vintage or antique -- highlight that. (Vintage, by the way, is 25 years or more. Appraisers and historians argue about the 'antique' label: some say 50 years or more, others, 100 years.)

Do 'gift basket' groupings. Multiple items look even more impressive, particularly when surrounded with tissue and arranged in a small basket or box. After all:

It's all in the presentation. Plastic giftwrap, ribbon and specialty tags don't cost much -- and make modest presents look like a million bucks.

Note: I'll be mentioning Tuesday Morning a lot -- I just started working there as a seasonal temp, and have noticed a number of interesting items. (Thereafter listed as TM.) But you can find many of these at your local stores. Don't forget thrift shops, dollar stores and the antique mall -- they often have unique items that can't be found in the plastic tzochke bins at other places.

                     FOR LESS THAN $5 (or even just a buck)

*A nice brandy snifter or crystal wineglass -- accompanied by a sampler bottle of wine, bourbon or brandy. (The bottles are running a buck each at our local Bubbles liquor store -- I'd get the glasses at the thrift shop or antique mall, but you can find them for $2.99 or less at TM.)

*Make your own moonshine. Last year's batch worked out to roughly $1.50 a pint.

*Christmas wreath or swag. Wire forms are cheap -- or make your own with a wire clotheshanger. Use trimmings from your backyard, including firs and evergreens.

 Keep it plain, or add a string of LED tiny lights and a bright red bow.

*Vintage handkerchiefs. (Add a copy of my Hanky Panky method, if they're quilters! Or add a comment with your contact info, and I'll send you a basic handout.)

*A sampler of items. For the scrapbooker: trims, scissors, specialty paper or stickers. For the stitcher: embroidery floss, thread, buttons, fabric squares. For the jewelry-lover: charms, beads, pliers and decorative wire. For the biker (motorcycles, I mean -- but it would work for mountain bikers, too): bandanna, wax or polish, reflective light, sleeve/pants guards. For the pet-lover: treats, a new feeding dish, chew rope or collar. The list can be endless, once you visit the clearance section, discount stores, etc. (Think 'small amounts:' a fat quarter at the fabric store, versus a yard or two, for example.)

*Snowmen pops: frost a package of Oreo cookies and dot on faces with frosting, chips or candies -- stick them on popsicle sticks, then tie with ribbon. Done!

*Giant gingerbread man or lady -- these are also good, made with my grandma's secret sugar cookie recipe Add a bowtie of decorative ribbon, then wrap in plastic.

*For kids: The promise of a trip to the dollar store -- and a fast food snack afterwards. Limit purchases to one item of their choice -- or one for every one of their family members. My piano students love this annual 'Christmas present shopping' trip.

*A portable game... plus an offer to play it with them. Add a small pack of nuts and a scorepad.

*Specialty pen with notepad  (TM has small bejeweled pads for $1.99 each)

*A pack of holiday napkins, with a bottle of barbecue or other specialty sauce -- and a recipe.

*Cup and saucer, in their favorite pattern or design.  (Add a teabag and sugar-dipped decorative spoon -- or substitute a small packet of coffee with a chocolate-dipped spoon. Hot chocolate works, too.)

*Package of teabags with a small bag of cookies. Add a paperback or video, for extra oomph. Or:

*Include a package of microwave popcorn with the paperback or video. Or Caramel Corn -- see below.

*Decorative mug -- with a copy of the Cup Cookies recipe below
   (Bonus: Mix the ingredients in a plastic bag. Tie with ribbon and include.)

*Earbuds, in a bright color -- with a CD of Christmas music. (You'll find both of these at the dollar store, for less than you think.)

*Cellphone accessories or tools. A small pack of these is surprisingly affordable -- try TM or other discount stores. The Brick enjoys tinkering with his cellphone, eyeglasses and other items that demand tiny repair tools.

*A $5 giftcard, wrapped in a handkerchief, or a small case you've stitched (or glued) from scrap paper or fabric.

If your time is limited (and for many of us, that's the case), then look for food gifts that can be made quickly, with minimum fuss. One of my old 'keeping food on a budget' posts has some excellent recipes, including Caramel Corn, Cup Cookies (see above), the best brownies ever, and...

these Peanut Butter cookies -- delicious, and no gluten. I made a batch in literally five minutes -- they'll be munched up faster than that.

1 cup peanut butter, 1 cup sugar, 1 egg, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon vanilla. Mix together and form into balls (squash with a fork for the traditional look) -- bake at 350 degrees for 10-11 min., until lightly brown. Makes about a dozen. (Yes, this recipe can be doubled and tripled.)

Brandy, over at Prudent Homemaker, has rustic-looking Christmas stockings she sewed from...painters dropcloth! These would make an interesting case for your holiday gift -- and something your recipient could use next season, as well.

If you have a lot of recipients to cover, one of Meredith's classic posts on Like Merchant Ships has a remarkable list of ideas for presents at a DOLLAR -- or less. (And they're good ones. I have plans for Paula Deen's House Blend mix myself. See the link.)

Another post of Meredith's gives more  'shoestring' present ideas, as does Charity Grace's thrifty little Christmas.

I keep a few items like this handy year-round for birthdays, as well as Christmas. Thinking ahead keeps your budget lean and active...without the frantic need to rush out at the last minute to Get Something. And that gives you more time for enjoying other parts of the holiday.

Be sure to add a note to the giftee, telling them why they are special to you. They'll like that as much -- or more -- than the present itself.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Paint Your Own Watercolor Portraits

I was intrigued by this idea from Elise at the blog Grow Creative:

Anyone can paint watercolor portraits, using the light and dark shadowing of anyone's face.

Not being an art major, I was a little skeptical. But the step-by-step tutorial proves she's right! All you need is a digital photo printout (faces plus partial bodies seem to work best); plain paper; a pencil; your computer ..and of course, a set of watercolors. You could do it with a 99-cent kids set, or a professional watercolor palette: good results, either way.

Go here for full details. Why not do a portrait (or two) for a Christmas present?
    (Elise does custom work, too.)

These Won't Do It...

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Tumbling Blocks - Made Easier

This allover pattern (known as Baby Blocks and Tumbling Blocks, among other names) has been a favorite of quilters for centuries -- even the early Colonial period.

     Before that, geometric designs like it were often featured in tile and parquet floors, particularly in Dutch Master paintings.  Take this checkerboard example:

Nicolaes Maes  The Idle Servant   (National Gallery collection, UK -- courtesy of Wikipedia)

You can even make your own 'tile' (actually painted) Tumbling Blocks floor, thanks to Make It Lovely. Go here for directions.

If you were stitching this pattern in cloth, it demanded painstaking piecing, usually by hand. It was difficult to get the diamond seams accurate, and points smooth.

Until now. 

Try this modern variation from Teresa Down Underbased on a technique developed by Marci Baker. Click on the link -- or take a look at the photos below. (Think 'rows,' instead of 'blocks.')

These videos are helpful, too:

This is Marci's video on the technique:

I've strip-pieced this pattern in Amish-inspired solids, like this 1930s version:

But it's equally beautiful in a scrappy mix of fabrics.

Rainbows or pastels, anyone? 

And not just cottons, either -- many 19th century Baby Block quilts were pieced in silks. Sometimes those areas were accented with Crazy-patched sections, as well. However, this 18th century version is straight cottons:

Shared by photos are via Pinterest


Sunday, November 12, 2017

Monday Stuff On the Way to Other Stuff: Putting Up, Shutting Up

A whole bunch of things are finishing up right now.

Mail this batch of packages here -- put this sack of groceries away there -- and try to fit in meals and cleaning up somehow, plus a few hours a week at Tuesday Morning. The house is starting to look better, but there's a lot more to go. 

So why is it that I just want to curl up on these gray-sky afternoons, cup of Irish tea at hand, and read by the fire? 

Back to work. Meanwhile:

VETERAN'S DAY NOTE:  There's one more opportunity to celebrate this, veterans -- Golden Corral's free buffet for vets is Monday, November 13, 5-9 p.m. Go here for details.

Artists' assistants -- and theft.  It happens a lot more than you think.  (From Artnet) Also from them:

A set of Andy Warhol Marilyn Monroe prints are shipped -- and arrive without the cardboard box they were originally stored in. So what happens? The dealer sues the shipper for $250,000.  (I'd love to hear the backstory on this one.)

The MERMEN calendar from Newfoundland.  Whoo hoo, guys!  I'll take a sexy man with a beard anyday...if it's the Brick.

Top Tens, credit-wise -- the best (and the worst) states for credit scores. (Hint: Minnesota is first for the best; Arkansas for the worst.)

Ten death masks of famous people. Controversial death masks, that is. Did you know that Shakespeare is thought to have had one?  (From Listverse)

"I don't want to live like I'm poor forever."  Would you, if you retired early?  (From GoCurryCracker)

25 really easy Thanksgiving desserts.  (From Taste of Home)

A tiny home -- built by a first-grade teacher and her grandparents.  (From Tiny Home Design)

A grasshopper stuck in a Van Gogh painting. Proving the artist DID paint outdoors...

Paladin Press is going out of business.  If you haven't heard of this gunslinging, sword-waving survivalist publisher...some of your male family members are bound to know. (Especially if they're interested in guns.) Prices are excellent on some hard-to-find books, including a whole section on historic weapons and combat techniques. You have until the end of November to order...maybe. Quantities are limited -- when they're gone, they're gone.

68 stocking stuffers for guys. An oldie-but-goodie from Frugal Upstate. (She's back, by the way, and posting again.)

Making cider - hard and otherwise.  (From the Frugalwoods)

The author of racial slurs (including the n-word) at the Air Force Academy? A black cadet.

An elderly woman, lost in the cold -- but found in about 25 minutes, thanks to a drone. Now THAT'S what it's supposed to be used for!

Is this really a Civil War era quilt? Your opinion is welcomed. (From Barbara Brackman's Civil War Quilts)

Have a great week.

Presents...For Much Less

    Unless you're a bazillionaire (or spend like one), it's easy to look at the list of people you want to buy gifts for...      an...